Back in the Old Corps, at a time when the average Leatherneck stood 5'8″ and weighed scarcely 148 pounds, young Bo Harllee, a square-jawed, hard-nosed, independent thinker from rural Florida, was already larger than life — a strapping 6'2″, 197 pounds.
He came by his commission the hard way, after being discharged from the Citadel for excessive demerits, and later tossed out of West Point (where he stood second in his class, but was deemed “too strong, too colorful, too willful, too independent a character”) for “deficiencies in discipline.”
He distinguished himself in action during the Philippine Insurrection of 1899 as a 22 ‘year old' Corporal with the 33rd U.S. Volunteer Infantry. And on February 2, 1900, he finished first among all applicants in the competitive examinations for commissioning in the United States Marine Corps. He was commissioned a year ahead of his less colorful classmates at West Point.
As a Marine, Bo Harllee was always surrounded by controversy. He was very nearly court-martialed a number of times — especially when, in 1917, on the eve of our reluctant entry into World War I, he testified before Congress: “… The biggest challenge, the most serious problem if war should come, will be working off the old dead wood which has risen to the top by the passage of time.” (Politically correct he was not.)
He retired a Colonel in 1935 but he was advanced to Brigadier General (a distinction awarded for his valorous service) in 1942.
He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetary by an escort of 8th & I Marines, in November 1944. He is buried next to our 13th Commandant, Major General John A. Lejeune.
So, who was Bo Harllee? Well, he was “The Father of Rifle Practice,” regarded in his own time as our nation's preeminent authority on small arms marksmanship training; the first Marine officer to qualify Expert with the service rifle. He was our first Public Affairs Officer, opening the Marine Corps' very first “publicity office,” in Chicago, Illinois, where he revolutionized our recruiting service (and was frequently under investigation by Headquarters Marine Corps). He was “first to fight” — a superb combat leader as a Marine who distinguished himself in action in the Philippines, in China during the Boxer Rebellion, at Vera Cruz, and in Cuba, Haiti, and in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
So when John A. Lejeune needed someone to ensure the success and survival of his radical invention, the Marine Corps Institute, he knew precisely who to turn to: Lieutenant Colonel William C. Harllee. And so it was that Bo Harllee became another “first” — the first Director of MCI.
On February 2, 1995, 95 years to the day after Bo Harllee earned his commission, we celebrated, at Lejeune Hall in the Historic Washington Navy Yard, the 75th Anniversary of the Founding of the Marine Corps Institute. And high tribute was paid to the immortal John A. Lejeune, the founding father of MCI. But all these years later, much of what is ours to celebrate is really attributable to a lesser known, always controversial and colorful, unsung “giant” of our Corps — the man General Lejeune judiciously picked to pull it off and “make it happen,” Bo Harllee.
“… Without Harllee's power to defy tradition, without his tremendous drive and vitality, the success of General Lejeune's school, might not have been so successful … The success of the program was largely due to the intelligent, fiery, and even rebellious nature of Colonel Harllee.” (Marine Corps Gazette, February 1950).
Brigadier General William C. Harllee, U.S. Marine Corps, had a dream of making America a nation of marksmen. With strong ties to the National Rifle Association, he first taught the Marines how to shoot, then the Navy, and later soldiers, civilians & women. He became known as ‘the Father of Rifle Practice' in the Marine Corps.”
NOTE: The General's son, John Harllee, Rear Admiral, United States Navy, died in 2005 and is to be buried in the same site in Arlington National Cemetery.
HARLLEE, WILLIAM CURRY
- BRIG GEN US MARINE CORPS REC AD
- VETERAN SERVICE DATES: Unknown
- DATE OF DEATH: 11/21/1944
- DATE OF INTERMENT: 11/24/1944
- BURIED AT: SECTION 6 SITE 5683
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
HARLLEE, ELLA FULMORE WID/O WILLIAM CURRY
- DATE OF BIRTH: 02/27/1879
- DATE OF DEATH: 01/19/1968
- DATE OF INTERMENT: 01/24/1968
- BURIED AT: SECTION 6 SITE 5683 NH
- ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
- WIFE OF WC HARLLEE, BG USMC
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard